How New York’s Bagel Boys fought and beat a mafia takeover

An unlikely tale of The Beigel Bakers Union Local 338 fighting back the mafia stronghold on New York City’s lifeblood: the bagel.

Pictured above is a bagel from Murrary’s Bagels. Easily my favorite place to grab a bagel in New York City. But, I love that The Times previously referred to a bagel as “an unsweetened doughnut with rigor mortis,” in a 1960’s article concerning the topic. But, the real meat of this story has to do with mafia and the bagel producing Union Local 338. Jason Turbow at GrubStreet writes:

Except that Willner’s weren’t the only mobbed-up bagels in town. In 1964, a shop called Bagel Boys had opened in the center of Jewish New York, on King’s Highway in Brooklyn. Among its principals was Thomas Eboli, otherwise known as Tommy Ryan, a capo in the Genovese crime family and a direct counter to Dio. Eboli was so powerful, in fact, that when Vito Genovese died a few years later, Eboli reigned for a time as the family boss. […]

Ultimately, the union handled the Mafia the same way that it handled nearly all extreme issues with management: full public confrontation. Nearly as soon as Bagel Boys opened its doors, Local 338 members showed up en masse to picket, distributing leaflets headlined, “PLEASE DON’T BUY,” with warnings that nonunion bagels “jeopardize the hard won standards of labor and inspection which the New York City public now enjoy.” Their most effective tactic in such situations was handing out free product in quantities sufficient to devastate business.

Ultimately, the strategy to confront the mafia in public worked. But the showdown was far from over. This entire story is rich in vivid detail. The rise of kitchen machinery, preservatives, and dough delivery networks — the battle for New York City’s penchant for bagel seemed insatiable. The spoils of war will go to the victor surely? Such a wild ground war between the familiar Jewish union bagel makers and the mafia is ripe for a movie if you ask me. This confectionary war was waged for nearly half-century came to a close in 1971 according to the author. Read the entire story here at GrubStreet.

But, there are other bagel battles to be fought across state lines, such as, what makes New York bagels so tasty? According to NPR, it’s likely due to the chemistry of New York’s tap water, and the steaming method which adds to the thin but chewy texture we’ve come to know and love. Whodathunk?

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